The village of Lygerea is about 13 kilometers from the city of Gytheio and is situated in the region of Lower Mani. Within Lygerea, the co-villages of Ano Asteri (formerly known as Pano Sola) and Kato Asteri (formerly known as Kato Asteri) are also included. The historical area of Skoufomiti is part of Ano Asteri.
Skoufomiti is an area that is part of Lygerea, which can be found with the co-village of Ano Asteri (Pano Sola) within the municipality of Gytheio. According to the Presidential Decree of 1978, Ano Asteri has been granted landmark status.
In Ano Asteri you will find not only the old residential homes, but also the Maniatiko forts of Vasilounianon which are mentioned by the architect - writer Yiannis Saitas in his book "Hellenike Paradosiaki Architechtonike - Mani" (page 93).
Skoufomiti, along with the neighboring village of Poliaravo, are considered one of the highest elevated places in Mani on top of the Taygetos Mountains. From Skoufonmiti one can see out in the distance all the way to the city of Sparta in the north, and to Inner Mani in the south.
The area of Skoufomiti, other than its natural beauty which it posseses, also is a very historical place for two main reasons.
First, for the small church named Panagitsa, which is found at the peak of the area, and second, for 20 somewhat years it was the base for the protoklephti Kapetan Zaharia.
THE NAME SKOUFOMITI
There are many sources which mention about this area and how it received its name. The most reliable source comes from the book by the author P. Ch. Douka; "Sparta throughout the centuries", which states the following:
Around the year 1262, the Byzantine Empire appointed dignitaries for the entire prefecture of Laconia. A short time after their appointment, they were granted lifetime status to their respected positions. These dignitaries would later be called Despotes. They were part of the Emperors representatives , in which they had the authority to decide on Byzantine art and the churches within their region. The Despot Manouel Kantakouzinou (1348) became very powerful within the prefecture of Laconia. His system was one in which he would have capable men from the Byzantine Empire being in charge of the military bases. In return, they would agree that they would work on and take care of the Despots land. As time went on, these men became military leaders for the Despots they were serving under. In Laconia, we find many village names which has its roots from the names of the Despots and which are clearly Byzantine names. In the region of Gytheio, 6 Byzantine leaders named the ares which they ruled after themselves. One of those is Skoufomiti.
There are many published sources about the church which is found at the peak of Skoufomiti. One mentions that the Byzantine leader Skoufomiti, was the one who built this church as a true beleiver in Byzantium.
Other sources mention that it was built by Kapetan Zaharias.
Most likely, it was Zaharias who built the church, on top of the one built by Skoufomiti. In his book "Sparta throughout the centuries", Doukas states: (Zaharias) bought a lot of land from the family of Vavoulianous, in which he built two forts and a church. In his book "Erevna stin Kato Mani", the author Nikos B. Drandakis writes: On top of Skoufomiti, near the forts of Zaharia is the church of koimisis, most likely it is the "small church" mentioned by Doukas.
The inner dimensions of the church is 7.50m x 3.60m and most recently it has been fixed. The wall paintings are in good condition, including the most fascinating one of Peritomis tou Isou, which is something that is very rare both in Byzantine and post-Byzantine iconography. The alter has been preserved along with the artwork of baby Christ and two saints.
Drandakis mentions in his book the following: "it is uncertain to know exactlywhen the church was built. It is mentioned that around the time when Zaharias settled and built his forts in Skoufomiti, he also built the church. The wall drawings of Koimisis, was all done by the same artist, but this is uncertain."
"It is quite possible that the year 1844, which is written on a hand done plaque located in the back of the altar, might also be the year the wall paintings were completed."
Among the names that are found in the hand done plaque, the name Pagona is one of them. It is known that the first wife of Zaharias was named Pagona. It is questionable whether or not the name Pagona found in the church can be connected with the wife of Zaharias.
THE ACTUAL VILLAGE OF SKOUFOMITI
The uninhabitable area around the church is known as Skoufomiti, which still has the old style Maniatika homes but unfortunately most of these homes have collapsed. It must have been in this spot that Zaharias and his family, along with the families of his fighting men (pallikaria) settled down. It was here when in 1792, Androutso, who was the father of Odysseas Androutso, along with his 400 men decided to stay with Zaharias. The book by Kyr. N. Stappa titled "H Laconia kata tin Tourkokratia kai Evetokratia 1460-1821" mentions that the census taken in 1618 by Pierro di Medici, the area of Sola (mainly Skoufomiti) had 60 families, and about 285 people.
HALASMATA TOY ZAHARIA
Across from the peak of Skoufomiti, at a distance of about 600 meters, on the side of another peak is where you will find the ruins of the forts of Zaharias. This topography allowed Zaharias to have a panoramic view of the region from Inner Mani all the way up to the Parnon Mountains. From here, Zaharias not only achieved glorious victories in battles against the Turks, but he also taught and educated future military leaders of the Greek War of Independence of 1821 (such as Theodoros Kolokotronis).
Up until recently, no one was able to visit the ruins of Zaharia (Halasmata tou Zaharia) because of the treacherous rocky unpathed ground. The Society of Lygerea, along with other villagers and friends (which also included the descendants of Kapetan Zaharias) helped to pave and clear the road which leads up to the forts.
When reaching the "Halasmata", you will notice clearly the makeout of the two forts, especially the walls in which some are taller than the others, and also a water well and the bases where the canons were placed at. It must be mentioned, that the ruins of the forts are the only sites still standing which pertain to Kapetan Zaharias residence in the entire prefecture of Laconia. The ruins of the forts are in good condition, and there is hope that they will be entirely excavated so that they may be shown.
"TRYPA TOY ZAHARIA"
Directly underneath the Halasmata tou Zaharia, there is a cave which goes by the name Trypa (hole) tou Zaharia. The entrance to the cave is very difficult as only one person may enter at a time. Local folklore mentions that this cave has three exists, located at a considerable distance from the entrance.
Zaharias was able to use the cave as storage for military supplies and goods, and as a hideout whenever faced with tremendous danger. Inside the cave, you notice that on one side it is blocked off from the rest, which is the side that leads to the three exists.
"PHGE TOY MOUTALI"
200 meters from the entrance to the "Trypa tou Zaharia" there is a stream which goes by the name of "Phge tou Moutali." This name is related to a Turkish military commander, in which local folklore mentions that the area was passed through by the Turks heading towards Mani.. This was well known by Kapetan Zaharias, in which he would use this knowledge to his advantage. He would monitor any movement by Turkish troops from high above where he was situated. One time, however, there was a group of Turks passing through, in which they decided to stop for some rest and relaxation. Kapetan Zaharias and his men decided to attack the Turks, in which they were completely annihillated. The commander of this Turkish unit was Mout - Ali, which is how the stream received its name.